Businesses opposed to a $15 an hour minimum wage in Portland launched a campaign Wednesday morning to defeat the November referendum initiative.

The “Too Far, Too Fast” campaign backers argue that the $15 minimum wage would be too large an increase for businesses to absorb and could lead to job cuts or worse.

“Honestly, I’m afraid I would have to close my store,” Elena Morrow Spitzer, who runs Maine’s Pantry on Commercial Street, said at a news conference on the Portland waterfront to kick off the campaign. She said she would no longer be able to hire teenagers to work in her store and might have to lay off a manager to make ends meet.

Steve DiMillo, owner of DiMillo’s on the Water restaurant, said the increased pay would be “devastating” for restaurants.

The anti-referendum effort is being spearheaded by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Retail Association of Maine. Chamber officials said the opposition group could spend about $100,000 to defeat the citizen-initiated referendum.

The business owners who spoke at the news conference said they support the Portland City Council’s decision to increase the minimum wage in the city to $10.10 an hour starting Jan.1, but that a $15-an-hour minimum would raise labor costs too much. They noted that Portland’s minimum wage would be twice the minimum in surrounding communities where competing businesses are based.

The Portland Green Independent Committee led the effort to put the $15-an-hour wage on the ballot.

Mako Bates, a member of the committee, said initiative backers can’t match the spending of opponents, but will be putting up signs and knocking on doors to build support.

Bates said workers need $15 an hour to live in Portland.

“And the longer we delay, the longer people are working for unfair wages,” he said.

The measure would be phased in over two years for companies with more than 500 employees and four years for those with 500 or fewer if adopted by city voters on Nov. 3. The minimum for tipped workers would increase to $11.25 by 2019, and employers would have to make up the difference if tips don’t raise that wage to $15 an hour.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]